This is most of a recent interview. It will appear in the HSC magazine in a slightly shorter version, and eventually on my site in a longer one, with more photos. Don't spread it around; it's just for the conference blog, for now, until a month after it's published. Thanks!
Jill Parmer lives in Fort Collins, in northern Colorado, with her husband Steve, and her two children Luke (15) and Addi (18 and studying in Spain).
Jill's early homeschooling journey involved nearly a year of The Well Trained Mind and Saxon Math, which made her decide to look into unschooling, in April 2002, she has not looked back
In the twelve years Jill has been unschooling, she has traveled across the country, stayed with other families, written and spoken clearly and enthusiastically about her experiences.
Recently Jill has been very involved with knitting and sewing, and is working in a fabric store. I hadn't known, when I met her years ago, that she was involved with needle arts, but she's really expert and creative.
I began by asking her about that.
When I first met you, were you knitting and sewing as much as you do now? Are they hobbies you came back to as your kids got older, or did I just not notice before? We were both pretty busy, years back.Jill:
You sure notice a lot! I did put my hobbies on the back burner while my kids were young, I really got the idea about spending lots of time with them.
(...and there will be more about that below.)
Addi went to Kindergarten and 10 days of first grade. Luke has not been to school. What happened with Addi?Jill:
It was a bilingual school. Addi enjoyed her Kindergarten teacher, and I volunteered once a week.Sandra:
In first grade there was one teacher she did not like, and another one she did like, but she would not do any work for. That instigated my observing a day of what Addi did at school, and us choosing something different—ultimately unschooling.
Your husband, Steve, was hesitant at first, you’ve said, about unschooling. What helped him become more relaxed and accepting of it?Jill:
Oh I messed that up in the beginning, sadly. I was over zealous at first, and Steve felt like I took off in a new direction without him. To fix that I included him in more things, and gave him more information about our day, I helped the kids see the things Steve wanted; I considered his feelings more. And just the passing of time helped, to see that his kids were doing ok, and it helped to compare to what our schooled friends were doing.Sandra:
So you had set sewing aside for a few years.Jill:
I did give up sewing for long periods of time, started when Addi (my first child) was born. Having pins around just made me too nervous. I knitted A LOT of socks though, I got to the point where I could do it from memory and not need to look at my work too much, my fingers knew what to do. And it's a small project that I could take with me. Before Luke (my second child and youngest) could read I sat with him many hours reading World of Warcraft quests for him and knitted during that.Sandra:
There were a few times I did get a bit of sewing done, like one year I made everyone pj bottoms for Christmas.
I love the stories of your time playing World of Warcraft with Luke and others, when he was younger. Are you still doing that?Jill:
Luke was nine years old when he started playing. I started so that I could help him with the game, I ended up really liking it. He quickly grouped up with several boys (who were also unschooling at the time) for a few years I was an important player for them, as the group healer. I also farmed gold and raw materials for them. He still plays with these boys and we have travelled to see them, across the country a few times. Sometimes Luke has stayed for a month.Sandra:
I still play with Luke and some friends, although I'm not that vital anymore. The people he plays with are really good, organized players doing current end game content.
At the height of it, what were some of your favorite aspects of sharing that with your son?Jill:
Probably my favorite aspect of playing the game with Luke is that I knew the game lingo (and meaning) to discuss this big part of Luke's life. We would laugh and be astonished about funny, intense, exciting encounters in the world of Azeroth (the name of the world setting in World of Warcraft).Sandra:
One thing really interesting to me was that so many teens were amazed that Luke's mom played World of Warcraft, and wished their moms would play.
You’ve helped other unschoolers quite often, writing, speaking, and answering questions in discussions. I’m grateful that you do that. What’s the upside of doing that, and is there much downside?Jill:
When I participate in groups or conferences, I generally like to volunteer to do something.Sandra:
Upside: Selfishly, I like to get nearer to the fascinating, smart unschooling people who inspire me, in order to see if words match actions and to learn more. Unselfishly, I like to contribute, to give back, and pass on what I've learned.
Any bits of downside are the usual frustrations that come from doing anything. Those are relatively small.
Had you expected to do that? Has it been in your nature to become a leader or facilitator in other activites and hobbies?Jill:
I didn't think about expecting to do that, but looking back yes, I usually become some sort of facilitator or support person in other activities: I volunteered for advance team of a traveling group when I was younger, I was treasurer and newsletter editor of a Weaver's guild before kids. I coordinated field trips and park days for our homeschooling group, and was the treasurer.
Addi went to Spain with her dad recently, which had an exciting unforeseen outcome.Jill:
Every now and again Steve reminisces about his time in Spain. He lived there for a few years in his 20s; he speaks Spanish fluently. Last spring he got a nice bonus from his work, and Addi had just taken a semester of Spanish at the community college. Steve's boss lives outside Madrid, and he has a pretty good relationship with him. So, off they go, and it worked out pretty nicely. The boss has a couple of girls Addi's age, and they all hit it off quite well.Sandra:
How did you learn about the Spanish language program that she’s gone back to participate in?Jill:
Addi wanted to go back to Spain. Steve is a guy who knows how to find pretty much anything on the internet that he wants. Steve's boss had said that in Salamanca, Spain they speak the most clear Spanish (without strong accents), but I think Steve and Addi wanted to be nearer Steve's boss and her friends.Sandra:
A day or two before before school started, she went to an orientation that included a walk around the campus. For whatever reason she could not find the group, even though she arrived early. After searching for a bit, she decided to go back to her apartment. Leaving the campus, she saw an interesting dressed guy coming to the school. It turned out he was late for the orientation. She told me that I would have liked to meet him, knowing that I like looking at clothes with out of the ordinary details and embellishments. She became fast friends with him and his girlfriend; he's from The Netherlands, the girlfriend was born in Cuba, but lived mostly in Austria. And they've all helped each other out when things were rough. I'm glad she's outgoing enough to meet folks, I'm glad she's helpful, and that she has friends who will help her out.
Now that she's settled in a bit, Is she enjoying being where she is?Jill:
She really loves being there. She misses home, but not enough to want to come home, yet._________________________________________
Addi's teachers have told her that they really like having her as a student, because she's not afraid to speak up, and that she brings some fun and delight to the class. I wonder if it's not some of the stirring up of excitement, that got her in trouble in Kindergarten, which prompted us to homeschool, and quickly move toward unschooling.
Steve is in Europe working for six or more weeks, over this holiday season. He's working in Paris, but goes to Madrid for three-day weekends to visit Addi. When they were chatting before his first visit, he told Addi he needed to look for transportation to a paella restaurant into Madrid (the school Addi goes to is NE of Madrid about 20 minutes by train). Addi waved Steve's planning aside and said she'd take care of it, and started looking at bus and train routes. I got to hear the conversation as I was on Skype with them at the time. It was such a role reversal. She was now the one who knew the most efficient and least expensive way to do something. And there was a sweetness, because Steve and I had up to this point been the ones who planned and helped the kids get what they wanted.
It's really cool to see the changes in kids as they get older, and for me to get a glimpse of Addi as an adult.
Jill has spoken at a couple of conferences in New Mexico, and Luke has spoken about gaming and unschooling, with his mom.
Before her trip to Spain, Addi visited unschoolers in England. James, Julie and Adam!
These opportunities have grown naturally out the family's thoughtful and joyous exploration of the world!
Sandra Dodd lives in Albuquerque with her husband, Keith. Their three grown children are all in happy flux around them these days—a move, a marriage, and a trip to India.